The following story was first published by the Malaysian Mirror and it is now published here for the readers of The Broken Shield.
By Joseph Tawie
17 May 2010
By Joseph Tawie
17 May 2010
SIBU - The Barisan Nasional-Sarawak United People’s Party has failed to retain Sibu parliamentary seat despite massive injection of money worth more than RM400 million and the promise of more to come for various development projects and plus plenty of “goodies”.
Robert Lau Hui Yew secured 18,477 votes as against Richard Wong of 18,845 votes, a majority of votes of 398 votes in one of the most hotly contested by-election. The May 16 by-election was held after the death of Robert Lau Hoi Chew on 9 April.
“This is a serious setback for the Barisan Nasional especially for SUPP,” said a political observer.
The defeat must have been very bitter especially after all Federal Ministers including Prime Minister Najib and his Deputy Muhyiddin Yassin put their hearts to the campaign. Najib himself made three campaign visits to Sibu to ensure the BN’s victory.
The BN was determined to add another victory to its number of MPs after its victory on the 25 April by-election in Hulu Selangor. But all their efforts failed.
So the BN leadership must be wondering what went wrong with their campaigns, their promises and with their policies.
The rejection is seen by many as a clear signal of not only troubles to come to the Barisan Nasional particularly to SUPP in the coming state election less than one year from now, but one that may start the “vote4change” tsunami in the state which has been controlled by the State Barisan under Abdul Taib Mahmud for more 29 years.
In this by-election, Taib and his administration have been one of the core issues so much so that Taib appeared to be a liability. It is said that Najib has advised him not to campaign in the town areas otherwise more Chinese would vote for DAP.
DAP has accused Taib’s politics of development as “politics of discrimination, nepotism and corruption”. The policy on land and NCR land, the awarding of timber concessions, government contracts, etc are examples of injustice and unfairness. And even the tallest Sanyan building which Taib’s brother owns also becomes an issue in Sibu.
And SUPP, being part of the government, is also to be blamed for the discriminatory policies in particular against the ordinary Chinese, while the wealthy and influential Chinese become richer.
Even the Ibans in the rural areas are badly affected by these policies. The lack of infrastructure, the absence of clean water and electricity supply in some of the 110 longhouses is an example of this neglect.
When Najib went to one of the longhouses to campaign, he saw certain houses have no electricity. He was very embarrassed. He ordered an immediate electricity connection. Luckily there were some SESCO wiremen following Najib.
Another factor that might have contributed to SUPP’s failure to retain the seat was the unsolvable bickering over the formation of the Dudong Branch. The leader of the Dudong branch and over 3,000 of his supporters were excluded in the campaign. The Malaysian Mirror commented on this one week or so before the polling.
Other causes of SUPP’s defeat are due to the less number of postal votes (2,673) as compared with the previous one of slightly over 3,000 votes and also the transfer of more than 3,000 voters from Sibu parliamentary constituency to Lanang parliamentary constituency.
Implications of the defeat are aplenty. And the obvious one is that money is not the determining factor as far as the Chinese voters are concerned. The Chinese see that the giving of money during a by-election shows the government is not sincere in helping the people who have been suffering for decades.
“Why should we wait for a by-election for the Barisan Nasional to pour money into the constituency?” asked a retired civil servant.
In that case the people hoped that their MPs or DUN members either die or resign if they wanted development money and other “goodies”, he said ironically.
Secondly, the people are fed-up with the present State government and are looking for change. With the existence of a two party system, the people have a choice. If they do not like you, they will vote you out.
Politics of promise and lies cannot sustain in today’s election as the majority of voters now are young people who can identify between truths and lies. Threats and intimidation cannot work any more in a sophisticated and knowledgeable society.
For the Pakatan, the victory is considered extremely important badly needed to prod up its moral especially in the midst of resignations from PKR, a partner in the Pakatan.
Indeed the victory is an ample proof that the Pakatan has the support of the people. As Lim Kit Siang said, the victory is considered the first step in the Pakatan march towards Putrajaya.
Locally, the victory is seen as a barometer for the coming state election that may be called between now and May next year. At stake are the Chinese majority seats held by SUPP including seats of Pelawan and Bawang Assan in the Sibu Parliamentary constituency and nearby state seat of Dudong in the Lanang Parliamentary constituency. The other state seat of Bukit Assek in the Lanang constituency is already in the hands of DAP.
The tsunamic effect of this victory may also roll over down river to the state constituency of Repok in the Sarikei parliamentary constituency or even to Kuching, Bau, Sri Aman and Miri.
For the first time, the voters saw the formation of Pakatan Rakyat Sarawak announced before the by-election by DAP, PKR, PAS and SNAP working as a team as a possible alternative to the State Barisan Nasional Government.
For the Pakatan, this was the first time that they worked as one team and its strategy worked to its advantage.
While DAP concentrated its efforts to woo and “control” the Chinese voters throughout the campaign, PAS went all out to explain the policies of the Pakatan in the Malay kampongs.
Initially, PAS campaigners were refused entry by the house owners, but they came through the back door and were able to convey their message.
DAP lost heavily in the 2008 parliamentary election. But this time around the loss had been minimized to only 500 votes.
In the Iban longhouses, the PKR was given the task to campaign.
For decades, the people in the longhouses have never known any other parties except SUPP. In fact the DAP leaders have never set foot in these longhouses during election times. There was no alternative, but for the Ibans to vote for SUPP.
But in this by-election, at least the Ibans know there is an Opposition as its campaigners led by PKR Dayak leaders visited every single longhouse in the Rasau, Bawang Assan, Penasu and Pasai polling districts.
“Before only Malays and Chinese came to talk to us about politics,” said a woman whose age is about 70.
“You people are the first from the Opposition to visit us and talk to us about issues that affect,” she said.
It was not an easy task to campaign in these longhouses as they have been “brainwashed” by Barisan leaders through Radio and TV and have been fed with rosy stories, about politics of development, the development of native customary rights lands, the lies of the Opposition, and etc and etc.
But the visits made by the Opposition leaders such as Anwar Ibrahim, Daniel Tajem and Baru Bian to longhouses have helped to open up their minds and eyes to see the “truths” of their side of the stories.
For example, the issues on native customary rights land that has been seized by the government and has been leased to big companies for the planting of oil palm.
Tajem told them to defend their land as it is their most valuable asset. “Take away their land, the Ibans will be like fish without water. In other words, they will die,” he said.
Tajem warned them that if they continued to vote the Barisan Nasional then they were going to lose more of their land.
The Opposition campaigns in some of the longhouses had made the BN leaders more worried as a result the BN ministers made several visits to these longhouses not only to counter issues made by the Opposition leaders but also to make promises of monetary rewards.
For instance, after Anwar’s visit to Rumah Baseh in the Bawan Assan area, Deputy Prime Minister made a visit to the longhouse, and his visit was followed by visits of other Federal and State ministers.
Although the Pakatan candidate lost nearly 2,000 of the Iban votes, the voting percentage of the Ibans for Robert Wong has increased between 30 and 35 percent. Previously Robert Wong received almost next to nothing.
With the victory in the by-election, political awakening has slowly begun among the people. Nevertheless, Pakatan needs to work much harder in the coming election in order to waken the rural people from their deep political slumber.
As James Masing, president of Parti Rakyat Sarawak said that the rural constituencies will be the “battle ground” for the coming state election.
In other words, the road to Petrajaya in Kuching depends on who controls the rural constituencies.